Queen’s Park

The School on the Hill

Queens Park School was known as the school on the hill because of its situation on Pukenamu, or Queens Park. Its proud motto was, Esse Quam Videri (To be is better than to seem to be).

1. Queens Park School Banner

Queen’s Park School banner, 1921. WRM ref: 1802.1719

The first school on Queens Park seems to have started in 1875. Then Girls High School was built on the site in 1879, opening in 1880. The term “High School” was used at the time to differentiate “Infant” schools from schools that taught older children, possibly from Standard 3 (Year 5) upward. In 1901 Girls High became a District High School for girls, combining some classes with classes from the Boys School. The early records of the school were destroyed by fire in 1905 which means there are not many details of those formative years.

The local Education Board started looking at the possibility of building a primary school in 1904. The fire of 1905 that burnt two classrooms in the Wanganui District Girls High School seems to have been the impetus for change. The Girls and Boys District High Schools were merged into the Wanganui District High School. Later in 1905, the old school was renamed Queens Park School and taught pupils up to Standard 6 (Year 8), both boys and girls. New single-seat desks were introduced that year too – Queens Park was the first school in New Zealand to have them! The School was noted for its strong Cadet group that started in 1906 and the talented Band, formed in 1916.

By the end of World War I, many Queens Park School boys had served and been wounded. A Queens Park School Roll of Honour lists 24 names of Old Boys who were killed while on active war service.

3. Queens Park School 1939

Queens Park School with Memorial Gates. Photo by FH Bethwaite, 1939. WRM ref 2005.56.32

A fire in 1917 destroyed many of the wooden school buildings. In 1920 a new brick building opened, and the pupils marched from their temporary home in the Methodist Church Hall, up the hill to the new school.

In 1926 Queens Park School pupils raised funds to build the Memorial Gates, in honour of past pupils who gave their lives in the War of 1914 – 1918. These gates still stand on their original site, the only visible reminder of the school on the hill.

From 1933 only pupils from Primer 1 to Standard 4 attended the school. Standards 5 and 6 pupils were sent to the newly established Wanganui Intermediate School, only the third intermediate school in New Zealand at the time. Queens Park School closed in 1972 and was demolished in 1977. A centenary was held in 1979, and surplus funds from the event were donated to repair and restore the Memorial Gates.

2. Queens Park School 75th Jubilee Plaque

Queens Park School 75th Jubilee Plaque. WRM ref 1984.8.3


Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Architect and the Artisan

With the refurbishment of the Whanganui Regional Museum now approaching half-way, considerable attention has been paid to the design and construction of its buildings. The 1928 building’s stripped classical architecture and pre-Napier construction have caused the bigger challenges to seismic performance, with a lot of steel and timber bracing now installed.

The Māori Court building, designed by Don Wilson, has also received earthquake upgrades, but mainly it is undergoing repair and restoration of many of its original features. Wilson’s Whanganui work, including the Museum, was celebrated in a well-received talk by architectural historian Mark Southcombe at the Davis Theatre on Tuesday 19 September. Investigation of the building’s origins has also revealed fascinating stories about the people who worked on it.

1. Basil Benseman

Basil Benseman

An important collaborator with Don Wilson, and a key contributor to the structure and appearance of the 1968 building, was master brick and block layer Basil Benseman. Bas arrived in Whanganui as a child and after leaving school, worked as a truck driver. He served as an anti-aircraft gunner and truck driver during WWII in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Italy before returning to an apprentice training scheme in Wellington. Before long, he had established B E Benseman Bricklayer, which from 1946 to 1985, built a significant portion of Whanganui. Bas worked on many landmark buildings around the city including the Embassy Cinema, St Marcellin School, Whanganui Intermediate, the Government Life and State Insurance buildings, the War Memorial Hall, Power Board Building, Queens Park steps and the Whanganui Regional Museum, among hundreds of others. He didn’t spend much of that time in the office; he was too busy on site, laying hundreds of thousands of bricks and blocks himself.

Don Wilson’s modernist architecture made frequent, often innovative, use of brick and concrete, and Bas often provided the craft needed to realise his designs. The Museum project used conventional blockwork in many parts of the structure, as well as stone facing around the Davis Theatre, an unusual, vertical application of decorative brick on the exterior walls and a lattice of stacked breeze blocks on the end wall, echoing a similar pattern on the War Memorial Hall across the square. Don Wilson, though, had an even more challenging role in mind for his long-time collaborator.

2. Mural

The Whanganui Regional Museum mural, made of Italian glass tiles.

The south side of the building presented a new face to the city and Wilson wanted to make the most of it. He designed a mural, based on rock drawings, to be rendered in Italian glass tiles. The biggest problem was the lack of anybody in 1968 Whanganui with the technical know-how to realise it. With complete confidence he turned to Bas who, despite his protests that he had never attempted such a thing before, was eventually persuaded to set to work in yet another medium. Over 10 months of painstaking work he invented his own mosaic technique which has weathered 50 years of Whanganui rain and sun and remains a shimmering tribute to a great partnership – the architect and the artisan.


Frank Stark is Director at Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Lion Monument


If you look up the hill from Victoria Avenue towards toward the Sarjeant Gallery, you will see a lion sleeping on top of a stone platform.

MEM-022The lion’s origins begin in 1865 at Nukumaru where a skirmish saw the loss of 18 soldiers.  The custom at the time was to bury the men on the field where they fell, but after their temporary headstone and simple fence had rotted away, and sheep and cattle were found feeding over the graves, a movement began to have the men buried and honoured properly. In 1892 it was decided that the graves should be relocated to a more central area, a place more convenient to maintain, and the fallen were moved to a new plot on Queens Park. A Veteran’s Committee decided to erect a monument to remember the men, and to commemorate all those who served and died during the tumultuous land wars and on other battlefields.

The Government at the time agreed to assist funding the project pound-for-pound up to £100, and locals were appealed to for subscriptions to the cause. The Council also contributed a significant portion; the total amount of £300-400 was amassed.

War Veterans at the unveiling of the monument, 1893

War Veterans at the unveiling of the monument, 1893

A sleeping lion was chosen as an appropriate monument; the lion was a symbol of the British Empire, and the pose reflected the slumber of the fallen men. Whanganui artist George Sherriff designed and sculpted the creature from marble.  Although Sherriff was an accomplished painter, sculpting was a new form of art for him and the lion project was his learning experience. The base was carved from Waikawa bluestone by monumental mason W. McGill.

MEM-024The monument was initially erected at the top of Queens Park, near where the Sarjeant Gallery stands today. It was surrounded by a low fence and had a small pile of cannonballs from the HMS Calliope at each corner, and two cannon from the vessel stood guard beside the lion.

When the Sarjeant was built and opened in 1919, the lion was relocated toward the bottom of the hill. It is the focal point of the Veteran Steps, the stairway leading up to the gallery, and now lists the names of the original 18 soldiers as well as 138 imperial and colonial troops who died in and around Whanganui during the New Zealand Wars. Another 18 distinguished veteran names were added after 1908.

The monument after relocation, 1919

The monument after relocation, 1919


Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Musuem.

Whanganui 75 Years Ago

W T Stewart Motor Co Ltd, now the Bike Shed, on the corner of St Hill and Ridgway Streets

W T Stewart Motor Co Ltd, now the Bike Shed, on the corner of St Hill and Ridgway Streets

In 1939 local business man Francis Haddow Bethwaite went out into the central business sector of Whanganui and took a series of black and white photographs of buildings, businesses and street scenes.

Bethwaite was closely involved with the local Chamber of Commerce and it is probable that this photography project was connected to its activities. The Chamber was a driving force in the Whanganui contribution to the Centennial Exhibition in Wellington in 1940 and Bethwaite was the Chamber’s primary planner.

Wakefield Chambers on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ridgway Street.

Wakefield Chambers on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ridgway Street.

Bethwaite was a keen amateur photographer who recorded family occasions and outings, business events and local developments. He was also a painter in oils, a sportsman and an expert in horticulture, being one of the initiators of the New Zealand Camellia Society.

The photographs were taken with a Kodak, probably a folding bellows camera that packed down into a neat flat leather-covered packet, convenient to carry and very reliable. The images were printed in black and white 8 x 10s, a standard photographic printing size of the time.

In 1939 New Zealand was preparing to mark the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Whanganui was in full swing, planning and producing an exhibit for the Centennial Exhibition in Wellington that demonstrated its material progress as a leading provincial centre.

The Alexander Museum now the Whanganui Regional Museum, Queens Park.

The Alexander Museum now the Whanganui Regional Museum, Queens Park.

The large public amenities, the Sarjeant Gallery and the Alexander Museum, had already been built. The new Alexander Library was designed to complement the Sarjeant and opened in 1934. They contributed to a grand civic centre but the town now had to maintain and pay for them.

The new Post Office was under construction to a contemporary grand design. New buildings had not been a primary feature of the town, the Depression of the 1930s limiting changes to repairing or altering building facades that suffered damage during the 1931 Napier earthquake.

The Majestic Theatre in what is now Majestic Square.

The Majestic Theatre in what is now Majestic Square.

By the late 1930’s Whanganui was an increasingly prosperous town, recovering from the effects of the Depression and the Great War, soon to be known as the First World War.


Monuments and Memorials

The Whanganui district has over 25 monuments and memorials dedicated to those who have served in the military services and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of our country.

PR-007 Moutoa Memorial

Moutoa Memorial in around 1866 facing north-west

New Zealand’s first war memorial stands in Moutoa Gardens/Pākaitore. The Moutoa Memorial, a weeping woman as the personification of grief, commemorates the fifteen kūpapa and one European who were killed at Moutoa Island, 80 kilometres up the Whanganui River, on 14 May 1864.

The Superintendent of Wellington Province, Dr Isaac Featherston, unveiled the memorial on 26 December 1865. Some 500 to 600 Māori, representing iwi from Whanganui to Wellington, and many Pākehā attended the ceremony. Unlike many later war memorials, it was not made to order, and was in fact purchased from Huxley & Parker of Melbourne by Featherston during a visit to Australia in early 1865.

The Moutoa Flag features a Union Jack, a crown surrounded by laurel leaves and the word “Moutoa” with a Māori and a European hand clasped in friendship. The original flag was subscribed for and made by the women of Whanganui, Rangitīkei and Manawatū to their own design, and gifted to local iwi. The sewing group was led by Mrs Logan, the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Abraham Logan, the commander of the imperial troops based in Whanganui.

Queens Park School with the entrance gates, which still stand today

Queens Park School with the entrance gates, which still stand today

There are also other obvious memorials. The Queens Park School Gates are a memorial to pupils from the school that died while serving during World War I. The Queens Park School Roll of Honour is located in the entrance to the Wanganui District Library in Queens Park.

Model of the proposed Durie Hill Tower with pointed top

Model of the proposed Durie Hill Tower with pointed top

Proposed plan for a Wanganui District Soldiers’ Memorial, incorporating a hall of memories

Proposed plan for a Wanganui District Soldiers’ Memorial, incorporating a hall of memories

The Durie Hill Tower just after completion

The Durie Hill Tower just after completion










The Durie Hill Tower was built as a war memorial to commemorate more than 500 servicemen from Whanganui who died in World War I. There was some disagreement about where to build the memorial. Some wanted a cenotaph in Queens Park while others wanted a lookout tower on Durie Hill. In the end both were built. The Wanganui Borough Council built the Cenotaph and the Wanganui County memorial was the tower. There were several plans for the Durie Hill Tower. One showed the tower with a point at the top and a perpetual light while another included a hall of memories. A lack of funding meant that a simplified version of the tower was eventually built. The Durie Hill Tower was unveiled on Anzac Day 1925.

The Wanganui Drill Hall April 1954

The Wanganui Drill Hall April 1954

The Whanganui Cenotaph in around 1924 with a group of people inspecting the wreaths laid for the Dawn Service

The Whanganui Cenotaph in around 1924 with a group of people inspecting the wreaths laid for the Dawn Service











In 1936 Whanganui was the first city in New Zealand to hold a Dawn Service. The Wanganui Chronicle tells us that over 100 former servicemen gathered before dawn outside the Drill Hall in Maria Place. Once formed up they marched to the Cenotaph in Queens Park where Padre W H Austin conducted the service before Bugler Alex Bogle played Reveille. As the sun began to rise the men placed poppies on the Cenotaph before marching back to the Drill Hall and then returning home.

Kyle Dalton is the External Relations Officer at Whanganui

Diorama leads to Masters


Kyle Dalton’s first view of the museum’s diorama of the Rutland Stockade that once stood on Queen’s Park hill was a crucial moment.  He can, in fact, trace his lifelong interest in military history back to that time.
Part of that interest led him to learn about the Rutland Stockade itself; “At 60 by 30 metres it was the largest stockade in New Zealand,” he says.  “At the time it was built it was one of eight in the country and four of those were here [in Wanganui].”
Kyle arrived in Wanganui from Marton in 1997. He was a policeman and had, before that, transferred from Auckland to Marton in 1991. From 1994 he had been coming over to Wanganui as part of 5 Battalion, the next stage of his career.
“I left the police, started a couple of security businesses; bought and sold, bought and sold them and then joined the army in `94.  One day when I was over here I came in [to the museum] and saw the diorama.”
His curiosity piqued, Kyle visited Queens Park to see where it was. Of course there are no obvious signs of its former location but it got him interested.
The stockade stood for 40 years, dominating the town with more than just its rudimentary architecture. Building on it started in 1846 and finished in April 1847.
“Conveniently, the timber was supplied by the very Maori who later attacked it,” says Kyle. “They were paid £500 for it.”
So what was in the stockade?  “There was very little. There were the two main buildings of American design; that’s why they overhang. The diorama had capping on the fence but originally they were sharpened stakes.”
Sharpened – not because pointy wood deterred people from trying to climb over, but because a sharpened stake sheds water and inhibits premature rot: trivia courtesy of Kyle Dalton.
As a matter of interest, there are two lines of bricks in the path leading from the Queens Park car parking area that overlooks Ridgway St up to the cenotaph. In 2002 when the walkway was being installed, workers uncovered two old stockade fences; one in corrugated iron from when it was used as a prison, and one in wood from its days as a stockade. Those brick lines mark the locations where the fences still stand, rotting beneath the soil.

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson's Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson’s Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

When it was in use as a stockade, it was never used as living quarters.  “The officers had their own quarters where Andersons is now [on the corner of Victoria Ave and Ridgway St], which was next door to the military hospital. The soldiers would camp out in tents on the flat ground now adjacent to the Davis Library,” says Kyle.
The stockade would have been manned around the clock by a skeleton crew.  The bulk of the units left in 1869, with the final soldier leaving in 1870. By 1872 it was a prison, but the untreated timbered structure, by then 20 years old, was starting to show signs of age.  “Members of the town council wanted to preserve it. They saw it as a significant feature of Wanganui, but it came down to cost … the issue was raised as late as 1883 when a large part of it came down. It was taken down in stages,” says Kyle. By 1888 it was gone, with some of the wood ending up in the local Masonic Lodge as furniture.
That view of the diorama, produced by the museum’s exhibition people some time in the 1970s, has led Kyle through further education to the point where he is now studying for his Masters degree.  “An examination of the role of the military in the development of Wanganui,” is his subject. At the centre of it, though long gone physically, stands the Rutland Stockade.

Article original published in Wanganui Midweek on December 19, 2012; reproduced with permission.